Sunday morning, pre-dawn. Our trail crampons squeaked loudly as they bit into the hard pack on the Van Hoeveneberg trail. I wore a base layer shirt and shell and walked fast to get warm as we headed into the High Peaks cathedral. My arms were cold for 15 minutes and then I was comfortable everywhere. A quick check with Joe and Alistair confirmed that so were they and we kept walking on the hardened trail all the way to Lake Arnold. There we paused in order to put on our snowshoes and begin breaking trail to Feldspar Brook.
It was a gorgeous day and the eastern flanks of Mt. Colden were illuminated so brilliantly by the morning sun that the woods on the western slopes of the opposite ridge were lit up from the reflection. From time to time we broke out into direct sunlight, which was an elixir to our souls. We crossed Feldspar and continued on our way to the Redfield-Cliff trail split. The trail-breaking wasn’t bad but enough to warrant regular lead switches.
I took a sip of my hot tea (on a whim I had popped a green tea bag into my liter of boiling water that morning and the flavor was perfect) and a mouthful of calories. In much deeper snow we took aim for Cliff. Joe led us up the cliffy section and new exactly where to thread a line over the grippiest ice. The views continued to expand and the sun seemed to help us ascend. We chose Cliff as our first peak so as to catch those very rays. Standing on Cliff we noted the improved views of Colden due to the snow pack and in a twinkling were back at the trail split for more food and beverages. The hike up Redfield was a totally different experience than Cliff. The trail was beautiful but the lower section, being more open along the brooks, had a lot more snow, which was heavier from being wind-compacted. Higher up where the trail leaves the drainage the snow cover was only about 6 inches.
The summit views and air were a smorgasbord for the senses. Air so fresh you could taste its goodness as it penetrated deep into your lungs and mountains all around, near and far. It was chilly but we felt fine and lingered before speeding back towards Uphill Brook. We were a long way from home! The descent was a delight in soft snow that permitted telemark skiing in our snowshoes.
Crossing Uphill Brook I spied a pool of sunshine on the opposite bank and stopped to change the batteries in my Spot device. We were at a nadir in our trek and I estimated 2000′ of total ascent to the top of Colden. Alistair announced he was not doing Colden and let himself drop behind as Joe and I we tromped our way steadfastly up to Lake Arnold. That section of trail seems to climb forever and I could feel the day’s workload in my legs. However, we covered the 2-mile section in about 1h15 so things were looking good.
At Lake Arnold, now 3:30 and the light fading we fueled up and I put a light puffy jacket on unzipped over my shell. Exiting the tight trail onto the exposed false summit of Colden was like entering a wind tunnel and the wind chill felt like -100 for that brief moment. I said to Joe that now we knew what to expect on the summit. Very luckily for us, someone had been up Colden since we had passed by that morning. It was obvious that they had worked very hard at breaking through extensive hard-packed (but not hard enough!) drifts and gone into deep trail-side holes on many occasions. Thanks to that person’s efforts we made the summit in exactly one hour. It was a furious and completely wild scene up there. The Macintyre Range loomed eerily out of the dusk like some mighty ship and to the south the horizon was a long narrow strip of glowing orange. The wind blew the snow all about in chaotic clouds that enveloped Joe as I snapped a series pictures of him as he began his departure from the short summit spur trail.
We flew down the soft trail in 30 minutes and according to Joe’s watch made it to Avalanche camps junction in a scant 30 more for a 4 mph pace. We kept that pace up all the way back to the HPIC where Alistair was waiting in his truck listening to football.
It was an 11 hour, 30 minute day in unadulterated paradise and as we shook hands Joe quietly stated, “ another amazing day”.